Act of grace

WWU student is helping to stop shoplifting in the Walla Walla Valley


Mitchell Powers, junior theology major at Walla Walla University, helped to implement a program that aims to reduce shoplifting in the Walla Walla area. 

Powers’ passion for people and for Christ is evident in his service for others: “serving others is worshiping God,” he said. Powers joined the university’s Center for Humanitarian Engagement his freshman year, and this led him to help the City of College Place’s Diversity and Inclusion board. One of the goals of this board was to end the cycle of shoplifting and criminal charges by implementing a divergence program. 

Shoplifting in the Walla Walla area, especially at Walmart, is prevalent. While shoplifting seemingly only affects large companies, it actually has a big impact on the community and shoplifters are often pushed by a lack of basic necessities. 

To help, Powers began to do what he, as a theology student, knew well how to do: read. In his research he found that the success of divergence programs hinged on personal engagement.

Now, shoplifters are directed to Blue Mountain Health for an opportunity to have their charges dropped. Offenders who arrive are interviewed by a clinician and can take an online course from the state. This new program helps these needy shoplifters by providing food, shelter, job counseling, hygiene products, and other necessities. 

Powers believes it is important for people to invest in the community: “For the same reason we have family, I think we have community,” he said. His hope for this project is that it will reduce the number of repeat shoplifting offenders in the Walla Walla Valley by investing in people’s lives and nurturing personal connections. 

Powers recently had an article about his efforts published in the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin. Powers said that he is excited about being featured and that he has received job offers because of the article.

Powers said, “The ability for me as an aspiring theologian, pastor, and chaplain to bring the grace concept of Jesus Christ into a city system that is understandably secular, was a monumental achievement. I think, I hope, and I pray that people who come out of this program are able to experience Christ because what our whole divergence program is based on is grace.” 

Posted on Oct. 30, 2021.

Mitchell Powers smiles at camera while standing in field.
Mitchell Powers helped to bring the grace of God into a secular system.